Sherman's Food Adventures: The MacKenzie Room

The MacKenzie Room

Generally, restaurant location can be one of the determining factors for prospective customers.  For instance, if they wanted to impress a guest or guests for whatever reason, they could choose a place right on the waterfront.  Alternatively, if they wanted to see and be seen, something along the lines of a Glowbal Group restaurant might be in order.  However, sometimes the location is irrelevant because it is really all about the food.  That might just be the case with The MacKenzie Room situated right across the street from Oppenheimer Park.  Well, Viv, Costanza, Elaine and myself were going to put it to the test on this latest food adventure.

Looking over the menu (which changes daily in accordance to what is local and fresh), it was pretty obvious we "wanted it all!" which meant for $56pp, we would be served everything.  The first 2 plates consisted of the Rockfish Crudo and the Showstopper Salad.  Nicely plated, the rockfish crudo was fresh, bright and sweet (with no fishiness).  I found the meat to be buttery while still firm.  Things were elevated with the zing and sweetness from the pickled grapes.  Piled high, the showstopper salad was dressed in a pistachio vinaigrette.  There was a background acidity that was a nice compliment to the nutty (but not salty) pistachios and creamy ricotta. Offering up a touch of bitterness, the greens were vibrant and fresh.  Completing the dish were tender lentils.

Whimsically presented, Veggies from the Garden sported bagna cauda, topped with crisp root vegetables, toasted foccacia dirt and gremolata.  First and foremost, the bagna cauda was creamy, a bit on the thicker side and mildly flavourful with hits of garlic and a mild saltiness.  This was a great compliment to the vibrant and sweet veggies where the crunch from the toasted foccacia was welcomed.  We didn't get much of the gremolata though.  Next up was their take on Ants on a Log. It consisted of leeks, peanut butter and crab apples  This was not as dessert-like as it appeared where the leeks were tender and mild while the sweetness of the apple was subtle.  The peanut butter was definitely nutty, but wasn't sweet nor was it salty either.  I loved the buttery honey mushrooms as they were prepared on point (they can be slimy if not).

The best dish of the meal hands-down was the Chicken of the Sea which was sea urchin pate with toasted ink brioche, crushed hazelnuts and seafood spice compressed pear.  Somewhat akin to monk fish liver, the uni pate was sweet, creamy and full of umaminess.  It went well with the crispy brioche (that tasted like any other brioche despite the black colour).  The nutty crunch from the hazelnuts added more texture, but really wasn't needed while the pears were an interesting mix of salty and sweet.  Next up was the Beef Heart Tartare wrapped in pickled cabbage leaves.  The medium-diced heart was mixed with quail egg, blueberries and horseradish.  On the side, the puffed tendon was very much like chicharones.  We weren't really fond of this dish and it wasn't because it was raw beef heart either.  Texturally, the heart was tender and buttery, but the flavours were a bit weak where it allowed the gaminess come through too strongly.

Moving onto some larger items, we had the Humbodt Squid with mussels, dill, parsnip husk, smashed parsnip heart, pickles and meyer lemon beurre blanc.  We found the cold-smoked squid to be tender without any sponginess.  It was lightly smoky while being aggressively salted.  The beurre blanc was silky and creamy with just the right amount of acidity.  There was a definite hit of cilantro with the cucumbers underneath.  Adding some crunch to the dish was the parsnip husks.  In theory, the Pork Belly & Sweetbreads should've been one of the highlights of the meal, but due to the fattiness of the belly, the dish never realized its potential.  Yes, we realize it was pork belly, but when there was little to no meat and just pure fat, it's not that appealing.  Too bad really since the combination of cauliflower pesto, smoked celeriac puree, apple and sweet clementine glaze provided a wealth of balanced flavours.  Sweetbreads were on the chewier side, yet sported a nice crispy exterior.

Continuing with more meat, we had the Lamb & Grits featuring braised neck and tongue with heirloom grits, charred broccoli, hop oil and cherry vinaigrette.  Others at the table weren't that fond of this dish, but I enjoyed it nonetheless because I love anything with lamb.  The grits were chunky, yet creamy while being well-seasoned.  I thought the lamb was tender, meaty and slightly sweet.  Ramping up the flavours was the spicy chili in the mole.  Our least favourite dish was the Corned Beef Brisket with stout brine emulsion, tomatillo relish, yam fritters, wilted chard and radish.  The problem was with the beef itself as it was dry and bland.  We did enjoy the mildly salty emulsion, but the relish was raw-tasting and didn't seem to go.  The spicy yam fritters were good as well as the just wilted enough chard.

For dessert, we were served a Chocolate Buttermilk Cake and a Dill & Cheesecake "Sponge". Accompanied by chili icing, maldon salt, bourbon cream and foie gras ice cream, the cake itself was moist and lightly sweet.  The best part was the creamy and decadent foie gras ice cream - so good!  As for the cheesecake, it was lightly sweet, smooth and definitely cheesy (reminded me of Japanese cheesecake).  On the side was a tasty grape-mezcal ice cream which was creamy, also not very sweet and just a touch boozy.  I thought the dill was quite restrained which was a good thing.  Adding a crunch was an almond crumble.  As you can clearly see, there are some real creativity and risks taken at the MacKenzie Room.  We enjoyed the surprises and although there were some misses, the hits made up for them.

The Good:
- Interesting dishes with nice surprises
- Different and fresh ingredients
- Casual and homey

The Bad:
- Daring to be different also means some misses
- Food comes out quick, better keep up


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